WelCom May 2018:
Pope Francis has written a new apostolic exhortation on ‘the call to holiness in the contemporary world’. Gaudete et Exsultate is the Latin title of the text, which translated into English means ‘Rejoice and Be Glad’. The words are taken from the Gospel of Matthew (5:12) at the end of the discourse on the Beatitudes.
Pope Francis post-synodal exhortation, ‘Amoris Laetitia – The Joy of Love, and St John Paul II’s exhortation on the family, Familiaris Consortio, flow out of the Second Vatican Council’s call for the Church to more fully understand and communicate with ‘the joys and hopes’ of marriage and family life by appealing to the ‘consciences and aspirations’ of all people, [Gaudium et Spes].
In his just released Apostolic Exhortation, Rejoice and Be Glad (Gaudete et Exsultate) Pope Francis builds on this call by reminding all people of goodwill of the ‘Call to Holiness’ in everyday life. This easy-to-read exhortation, echoes a number of familiar themes in the leadership of Pope Francis, not least the need to cultivate a much bigger picture of God’s merciful presence in the Church and in the world. As Pope John Paul II said so beautifully we can only see a bigger picture of God’s mercy to the degree that we combine faith with reason. His stated purpose is modest, to have us return to a fundamental tenet of our faith: we are all called by name ‘to be holy and blameless’ before God. That is our baptismal call and that is our lifelong vocation in Christ.
As in his previous writings and teachings Pope Francis draws on the wisdom of the local Churches including our own New Zealand Catholic Bishops Conference Pastoral letter on ‘Healing Love’, published in 1988. Rejoice and Be Glad reflects the pastoral compassion and beauty of that Pastoral letter. Its compassionate tone finds an echo in the way Pope Francis praises the power of witness and holiness in the lives of the people of God. He repeatedly refers to such people as the backyard saints, who, while they may never receive any public recognition, are actually profound channels of God’s grace. These witnesses of grace implicitly understand and live out the ‘accompaniment’ that is such a central theme of Amoris Laetitia.
To my mind these ‘backyard saints’ are the very people who are at the heart of parish life and who serve so generously to build up and nurture the Body of Christ within our communities. In so many and varied ways they ‘find the right language, arguments and form of witness’ that help to ‘reach the hearts of young people [and the not so young] by appealing to their capacity for generosity, commitment, love and even heroism.’ (Amoris Laetitia n. 40)
Just as the path to holiness cannot be made without companions, that is, those who break bread and listen to the Word of God each day, neither can the path to holiness be travelled without deep and abiding prayer whereby we continually free our hearts from our superficial concerns, ‘face our true selves’ and allow the Lord to enter.
As with Amoris Laetitia, Rejoice and Be Glad benefits from ‘patient and careful reading’. It is a beautiful reflection.
Fr Michael McCabe is parish priest at Our Lady of Kāpiti Parish.